Forest travel rules continue evolving
Eagle County, CO, Colorado
In 1905 Gifford Pinchot said the mission of the U.S. Forest Service was to manage the national forests and their resources to the meet the greatest good for greatest number in the long run.
Today’s mission, “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” means much the same thing. We must manage the lands for which we have been trusted in a way that protects the resources for future generations while striving to meet the sometimes competing needs of the public today.
The way people use and travel on the White River National Forest is different today than it was even 10 years ago, to say nothing of how it was done a century ago.
There are new pressures put on the land every year. These changed conditions have brought about a need to change the way we, the Forest Service, manage the way people travel on the national forest. This process of addressing changing needs is called travel management and it is documented in a forest travel management plan.
In 1999, we produced a draft travel management plan for the White River National Forest. We began this process in conjunction with the development of our revised forest plan.
At that time the public told us we were asking them to address too much information at one time and so we deferred the travel management discussion.
In 2006, we released a draft travel management plan. At that time the Forest Service nationally was revising the rules regarding motorized use of National Forest System lands. This change in rules affected the way we would manage travel on the White River National Forest. Again the public asked for more time to get their hands around all of the information we were asking them to comment on.
So here we are in the fall of 2008. We have released for your review and comment a supplemental draft environmental impact statement for the White River’s travel management plan. I encourage you to review and comment on this document. The document is available at our Web site, http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/, along with directions for commenting on the document.
We mailed 1,300 copies of a CD to our travel plan mailing list. Additional copies of the CD are available at Forest Service offices across the White River National Forest. If you have questions about the document, how to obtain a copy or how to comment on it, please call on my staff. Wendy Haskins, forest planner (970-945-3303), and Pat Thrasher, public affairs officer (970-945-3237), are ready to assist you.
In a nutshell, here is what the supplemental statement does: We looked at winter and summer travel across the whole forest. We looked at approximately 4,000 miles of existing Forest Service roads and trails and over 1,000 miles of user-created routes. We made an effort to integrate the forest’s recreation strategy and niche to define a quality, safe and manageable transportation system that meets your need for access. We addressed issues raised throughout this process and took into account the more than 1,400 letters we received as we crafted a new preferred alternative that strikes a balance of supply and demand between use types, all the while taking into account resource considerations and management capabilities of the forest.
The statement describes three management alternatives including our preferred alternative. The preferred alternative comes from the forest plan, the 2005 travel rule, and the comments received throughout this process. The preferred alternative clearly shows the public where and when specific uses can occur. It tells us which facilities (roads and trails) we should invest time and money in. It tells us which roads and trails, whether Forest Service constructed or user made, should be closed, decommissioned and rehabilitated.
Some users may not be affected at all. Hikers and cross-country skiers will see very little change. Horseback riders will see some changes as specific routes will be closed for safety and resource protection, but overall will see an increase in available trail mileage. Mountain bike riders will be limited to roads and designated trails only. Cross country travel by mountain bikes will no longer be allowed.
Motorized users will see the greatest change as the preferred alternative will do the following:
n Close or decommission approximately 150 miles of dirt roads to all vehicles because of resource and maintenance concerns.
n Convert approximately 140 miles of dirt roads to motorized ATV trails to enhance or provide quality routes.
n Eliminate the use of unlicensed motorized vehicles on approximately 500 miles of roads due to safety, management, quality of experience, and/or resource concerns.
n Add approximately 280 miles of user created routes to the Forest Transportation System.
These are challenging times for Forest Service and the White River National Forest. We have a mandate to manage and protect the resources of the lands we manage in a way that best meets the needs of the often competing needs of the public, and to do so in a cost effective way while operating within the realities of our budget. I think this plan does that.
I encourage each of you, whether you play on the forest or make your living from the resources of the Forest, to get a copy of the supplemental draft environmental impact statement for our travel management plan, review it and comment on it.
Mary Morgan is the acting forest supervisor of the White River National Forest.